Monthly Archives: November 2014

It’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas

Yes, I know that’s not how the song goes, but bear with me.

Today A’s class and the class above took part in a Choir Outreach concert at St Albans Abbey. They have been having weekly sessions since the beginning of the new school year with a music conductor, Rufus, and have been learning four songs for the concert. Along with two other schools from the area, they headed off on the coach to the Abbey earlier this afternoon for a tour of the building and rehearsals. Parents, family and friends were then invited to watch and listen when the concert began at 5pm.

So K, T and I met up with G & G in St Albans and walked down through part of the town to the Abbey. The Christmas lights were all on in the town and it all looked very pretty. Further down on the way was a Christmas market which again looked quite festive.

We went straight in to the Abbey and found seats fairly near the front and on the left – due to a tip-off from the headteacher “she’s in the middle for the first bit and then on that side for the rest!”. The children were just finishing off rehearsing the final song and then were all given a few minutes to have a drink and snack before the concert began. The place was soon very busy and we were glad we’d managed to arrive in good time to get our seats.

The introductions were made and the concert began. A’s school sang with another of the two for the first song and then it was just them doing the four songs they had learned. They were BRILLIANT!! They were the smallest group in number but the biggest in voice. So clear and so pitch perfect. Absolutely outstanding in such a small space of time.

The other two schools were very good and it was a thoroughly enjoyable hour. The Abbey choir were also in attendance and were wonderful.

I’m so thrilled that A and her classmates were able to have this experience. I will certainly remember it for a long time as I’m sure will G&G.
It has definitely made me feel like Christmas is on its way.

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Competitive?

I’ve never been particularly motivated by the idea of winning. I wasn’t a competitive child – as far as I remember (and I could be wrong) – I didn’t feel the need to do better than my older brother or that I was in any sort of direct competition with him. Our parents were always very unbiased towards both of us and never uttered the phrase “if only you were more like your brother/sister/boy next door”* (*delete as appropriate).

This lack of competitive spirit was quite obvious from a young age, particularly during a sports day at infants school when I am reported to have been winning a running race, only to turn to see where my fellow runners were and then slowing down to wait for them. It goes without saying that I didn’t win. And this has pretty much carried on through my childhood and adult life.

I can’t decide if this is a good quality or not? Is a lack of competitiveness something to be admired or is it a failing? Perhaps it depends on how you behave when you win or lose. And here I find myself in a bit of a quandary. Because, in spite of my lack of killer winning instinct, I’m not a very gracious loser. But only in particular situations:- Scrabble (I’m very proud of my spelling prowess and relatively wide range of vocabulary); certain games on the Wii (especially the one where you have to stop the baby crying); basic board games (not chess, I’m not bothered about chess but would like to be able to play); baking (I want to be really good at that). I’m really not fussed about anything else.

I like to play fair and like the rules to be followed. I’ve always tried to instil this in the children and, from an age where they can understand, have not been one of those mums that just lets them win. I think it’s important to make them learn that you can’t win at everything and that you have to take it on the chin when you don’t. But you have to play fair and cheats never prosper, etc, etc.

Perhaps this is why in adult life I find it baffling when faced by a fanatically competitive person. I’m not interested in knowing everyone. I’m not interested in being popular (that ship sailed a long time ago and I think my life has been all the more pleasant because of it). I’m definitely not interested in trying to outdo people. Keeping up with the Joneses? No. thanks.

So, it’s beyond me why anyone would feel the need to be seen to be more popular, more involved, more funny. I know all the old chestnuts like “it says more about them than it does about me” or “they must be insecure if they feel they have something to prove”, but it has reached a point where I find myself wanting to say “You win. I give up. I don’t want to play the game.” I would like to think that the people that know me, the people that REALLY know me will not care if I’m not responding to statuses (stati?) on Facebook or vying for attention in the school playground. I will continue to make time for the people that matter and I will not lose sight of the important stuff.

But I will not compete. Not at the age of 5 and certainly not now at the age of 42. If that makes me a loser, then at least I’ll be a gracious loser!

Comfort Zone

It’s funny how an off-the-cuff remark can get you thinking.

My friend Steve is looking for people to join him on a charity fund-raising trek in Nepal that he is undertaking this time next year. I commented that he would want to kill me by day 1 as I would drive him mad whinging! Because, let’s face it, I would not be sleeping in a comfy bed each night or have the chance to use a nice clean toilet along the way.

His response was to send me the details of the trip because in actual fact it would appear that it would be far less primitive than I was imagining. I dutifully looked at said info and it actually looks and sounds amazing. That is, apart from the long haul flight (killer); suspension bridges to walk across (I can’t even do high ropes at a kids playground); and two weeks away from home (I’d hate it).

Of course I was never seriously contemplating it and Steve was in no way trying to persuade me to go, but it did get me thinking how little I push myself out of my comfortable little bubble that I live in. I know I did a 10 mile walk a couple of years ago but it was just walking. Should I be more adventurous? Should I try and push myself more?

Steve’s reply was “it’s called a comfort zone for a reason Jane and why would you want to leave it?”

Wise words. I wish him well on his adventure and I may have a pang of envy when I see the progress reports, but I am quite happy to remain in my cosy little bubble.

Musketeers

Last night the Secret Squirrel Book club went on our first ever road trip. (It’s so much more than your average book club).

One of our elite group is a dedicated Erasure fan and has been for nigh on 25 plus years. And being the loyal bunch that we are, when she asked if any of us would like to accompany her to see them in concert, we all agreed in a very Musketeer-like fashion. So tickets were purchased, plans were made, Pizza Express was booked and the day finally arrived.

We set off about 4pm and I think it is testament to how well we all get on that at least 2 of us had brought along sweets for the journey and the conversation on the way covered topics such as who had AA cover in case we broke down; whether we should leave our coats in the car before the “gig” (how hip!); and Suzanne’s potty training success or lack of (her training her son and not her personally). Poor Claire had at least four people (not including the sat nav) trying to tell her which lane to be in for the right way to go on the M25. She already knew. They didn’t realise she knew. No-one needs four back seat drivers but not one cross word was uttered. How very civilised.

We arrived in good time and parked right outside the rather new and gleaming venue in Guildford. Lovely dinner at Pizza Express, pre-gig. Rose wine anyone? Ooh yes. Starters? Ooh yes. Mains, naturally. Pudding? Oh I couldn’t, but if everyone else is then it would be rude not to. But no! Pudding is taking too long to arrive and Erasure are on stage at 8.30pm……it’s 7.50pm and pudding is still not here……Sarah is getting fidgety. Ah relief, pudding at last. Should we get the bill while we eat pudding? Yes! Where’s the waitress?! The trials of the middle-aged, not wanting to make a fuss, how can we be polite while still making her know we want her to come over here right now so we can pay the bloody bill?! We’ll put our coats on! Hurrah, the bill is paid, we have got our respective change and we are off!

Coats dumped in car – I’m not giving up my scarf though – and toilet stop completed, we finally found our way into the auditorium and got a great spot fairly near the front and reasonably close to an exit (my claustrophobia had to be taken into account). Sarah was happy that she would be close enough to her idol and then after a short wait (while some classic 80’s tunes were playing) the lights dimmed and it started.

There’s something about live music that really works for me. I love the way that otherwise very ordinary people can come alive on stage and transform into an absolute superstar, either singing or playing an instrument (or a computer screen in the case of Vince Clarke). I’m pretty sure I could pass Andy Bell on the street and not think twice about it, but on stage he was incredible. Yes, his outfits were pretty outrageous (gold sequinned hot pants anyone?) and he camped it up massively for the audience, but boy he can sing. I can completely understand why people get addicted to fame. To be able to command a crowd just by singing a few words of an absolute classic song from over 20 years ago must be a very satisfying thing to do. They were as good as I remember them being all those years ago and despite having released many many more albums since their heyday in the 80’s they know they’re audience and only played 4 of their new songs, concentrating instead on the golden oldies. I thought I would only know 4 or 5 of their most popular songs but as the evening progressed I lost count of the times that I said “oh yes! I’d forgotten this one!” and was able to sing along quite happily with the rest of the (mostly middle aged) crowd.

The only thing I find excruciating about going to any live music event is my lack of dancing ability. I LOVE music. I can’t imagine a life without music in it. I love to sing. Not well but not badly. But I CANNOT dance. I have no sense of rhythm and in my teens was constantly ridiculed by my peers for my lack of any timing or basic ability to move. This has not improved in adulthood. So, although I was in my element listening to and singing along to the brilliant music, I did feel a bit of a wally doing my bog-standard toe tap and occasional ever-so-slight shoulder wiggle.

And then, all too soon, it was over. No panic about being in a crowd. Legs not aching too badly from standing up for two hours. Ears ringing and chest thumping from the incredibly close speakers, but in a really good way. It was fab and I’m very glad that we all decided we should go. All for one and one for all.

Farewell

Today was Auntie B’s funeral. It’s been a long wait as it took a while to find a date that everyone could make and my cousin Phil wanted as many people to be able to attend as possible.

I’ve been getting more anxious as the day has got nearer, as Phil had asked me to do a reading, which was an honour but also very nerve wracking. The poem that he asked me to read is called “Farewell my friends” and it has quite a few choker lines! I’ve been reading it fairly regularly since he gave it to me and I had just managed to get it to a point where I only felt like I was going to choke on the final line, which I guess isn’t a bad place to do it if you’re going to!

As expected there were a lot of tears when we met up with the rest of the family. My auntie had 4 grandchildren and one great grand daughter and they were understandably very upset. It is only just over a year since my uncle died and it seemed inconceivable that we were all gathered again so soon.

Two of the grandchildren read some lovely memories that they and the others had compiled about Auntie B and it was a lovely tribute to her. My cousin Phil did the eulogy and he made us smile and laugh as well as bring a tear to our eyes. We sang some hymns, the second of which I couldn’t sing as my heart was thumping so hard, as I knew I was up next. And I managed it. Just. I felt like I steam trained my way through it and yes, I choked the last line. But I was proud to be part of the service and very glad that I agreed to do it.

The reception afterwards was lovely. Unfortunately, my dads cousin and family were unable to get there as they couldn’t get onto the motorway due to terrible traffic. A real shame and I know they were very upset, but it was nice to see other people, some I had not met before. It was nice for my dad to catch up with people – notably a couple who, as children, lived in my dads road when growing up, and subsequently married. The lady was my aunts bridesmaid when she and Uncle Howell married, and they had lots of stories to tell.

Now I am home and the tension of the day is over I feel totally drained and quite emotional. It is always hard waiting for the day and knowing that it is the end. We almost welcome it, but then imagine that we should feel better and less sad. It doesn’t seem to be that way, yet. I will remember how much fun we always had together, and how I always feel so lucky to be part of a family that has such a great sense of humour (we can turn any event into a reason to smile). Auntie B was a big part of that and we never failed to laugh whenever we saw her. She had a great big smile and I will remember her with real fondness forever.

As the final part of my reading said “all I need is your smile…..if you feel sad think of me……when you live in the hearts of those you love….remember then……you never die”.

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Lest we forget

Since becoming a fully fledged grown up, Remembrance Sunday has always made me a little bit emotional. Maybe it’s since having my own children or just an age thing where you become more aware of loss and sacrifice. So when A came home from Brownies with the news that she would be laying the wreath on Sunday I felt very proud. I know it’s just because she’s one of the eldest there now and they always get the older girls to carry the flag or lay the wreath but I hope it’s something she will remember when she’s older.

We met the rest of the group at the meeting point ready for the procession up our village high street to the war memorial. I’ve been to the service several times over the years but this one was extra special. I love that a small village like ours marks the occasion with a proper ceremony. The high street comes to a standstill and quite a few locals come out to watch.

Once the procession reached the memorial the local church ministers (we have 3 churches) performed the ceremony between them. The roll call was read of all the men from the village who died in both world wars – a surprising number. This brought a lump to my throat. After the two minute silence a local lad from the scouting group performed the Sounding of the Last Post. And he did it brilliantly. By this point I was nearly blubbing and shed a small tear.

All of the local groups then laid their wreaths and A went up with her 2 helpers (not sure of the correct word) and laid hers. They stepped back and did the little brownie salute. A very special moment.

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She takes all of these things completely in her stride and doesn’t seem to get nervous. Very proud.

Fab Friday

I’ve been looking forward to this Friday. And it was worth looking forward to. I had a lovely morning discovering the delights of a new* home shop with Mrs L and Mrs F. There were lots of lovely Christmas items to peruse (and purchase – don’t mind if I do!) and other home items (as you’d expect in a home store). The highlight of the visit had to be the humongous bears (not real) for sale. They were so gorgeous we had to have a pic (Mrs F had to rearrange the positioning of Mr Polar Bear to ensure he was looking at the camera). I could have happily climbed on the Mr Brown Bear’s back and hugged him to death (if he wasn’t already so).

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A bacon roll and beverage back at our lovely local “farm shop” finished the morning off nicely. I was a bit off par this morning after a bad nights sleep which left me feeling unsettled and slightly “emosh” but after spending the morning with 2 brilliant friends I felt much better.

Tonight we’ve been to the fireworks at the village school which was great – T was reluctant as none of his friends were going but we walked up with our fab next door neighbours so he was ok – until his old year 6 teacher cornered him wanting to know how he was getting on at secondary school – mortified!! I think that’s the last time we will be able to persuade him to go!

Home for fish finger sandwiches – yum!

A lovely day.